The mental health of girls has deteriorated in recent years. During the corona operations, they often became lonely, while the boys resorted to their gaming devices. At the same time, girls bear more of the burden of performance pressure than boys, even outside of school.
In secondary education, the proportion of Dutch girls with emotional problems in secondary school increased from 28 percent in 2017 to 43 percent in 2021. This is mentioned in the research report. Health Behavior in School-Age Children (HBSC). There was also a significant increase among girls from the eighth group, from 14 percent to 33 percent.
The researchers speak of an “unprecedented deterioration in mental health”. According to them, the worrying decline in mental health is partly related to the Corona crisis. It was more difficult for girls than for boys.
The numbers hardly surprise professionals. For example, psychiatrist Sebastian Cardona, director of the Yose Foundation for Child and Youth Psychiatry, has seen a sharp increase in the number of girls urgently reporting eating disorders. That was half the number before the pandemic.
“Girls used to come here with serious thoughts about death. Now we have seen girls who really tried to commit suicide.”
Sebastian Cardona of the US Youth Psychiatry Foundation
“There was a clear link between Corona and this situation,” Cardona says. For example, there has always been a wave of new patients, four to six months after closing. “School has a stabilizing effect on young people who are already vulnerable,” he explains. “If this disappears, this group will lose its safety net.”
Cardona also saw the emergence of a new group: girls with empty records, who appeared out of nowhere with serious problems. “In the past, girls would come here with serious thoughts about death. Now we’ve seen girls who really tried to commit suicide.”
The arrivals are also getting younger. According to the psychiatrist, they were on average fourteen years old during the epidemic, compared to sixteen years before that.
Girls need a good conversation more
Why are girls affected by this epidemic? Cardona sees as a possible explanation for the fact that they develop faster than boys and are more likely to need a rich social life. When contacts were lost due to the shutdown, it was even more difficult for them.
Frederieke Vriends is the Director of MIND Us, an organization committed to the well-being of Dutch youth. “Girls are known to have a greater need to reflect themselves to others. They find out who they are in relationships,” she explains. That was difficult during the pandemic.
“Boys stay cheerful a little longer,” says psychiatrist Cardona. “They tend more towards practical things.” Boys were more likely to play closing games together, while girls were alone in their room. The psychiatrist also heard that many girls said that they had missed the structure of the school. They began to look for other activities, such as losing weight. Or they stayed in bed, which led to depression.
High expectations weigh on girls
Researchers also argue that performance stress causes more mental problems. “In 2001, 16 percent of high school students reported experiencing severe stress from schoolwork. By 2021, this had increased to 45 percent,” the report read.
“The pressure on young people is really social. They feel driven to do better by their parents and school, but also by comparison to each other,” says Vriends of MIND Us. According to her, the pressure is not only about the need for good school performance, but also the presence of friends, pleasant side work, and hobbies.
“Girls internalize feelings of stress. They turn inward. This is not necessarily healthy.”
Gretje Timmerman, Professor of Youth Issues
Professor of youth issues, Gretege Timmerman, says girls have been under pressure to perform in education for a long time. “It has been expected for centuries that girls would get good grades and be hardworking.”
According to Timmerman, pressure to perform at school has “significantly increased” in recent years. Boys and girls deal with this differently. “Girls internalize feelings of stress. They turn inward. This is not necessarily healthy.”
According to the professor, boys are taught from an early age that they can sometimes throw the lid on him. “They have more room for anger and disobedience. We are more likely to accept that if they drop their homework.” The professor says we expect shyness and obedience from girls.
In addition to the pitfalls, social media also has its good sides
NU.nl readers collectively reacted to the news about the research and suggested that social media is also having a bad effect on girls’ lives. The psychiatrist Cardona already sees that young girls in particular can be negatively affected, for example by promoting unhealthy methods of losing weight.
Friends add: “The influencer feels closer than the singer is used to. This gives young people the idea that the highest attainable is within everyone’s reach, while only a few succeed on social media.”
But social media also brings a lot of good, Vriends emphasizes. “Young people find each other on online platforms. There are also people who are becoming more social because of it. And they learn a lot online. There is no dancing on TikTok really.”
Are you contemplating suicide? You’re not alone. Call 113 Suicide Prevention via www.113.nl or call 113 (local rate) or 0800-0113 (toll-free).